ASU-UA rivalry not played down as tennis match approaches

Sophomore Stephanie Vlad attempts to return the ball in a match against Colorado on April 4. Vlad defeated Julyette Steur of Colorado 6-3, 6-1. (Photo by Mario Mendez)

Sophomore Stephanie Vlad attempts to return the ball in a match against Colorado on April 4. Vlad defeated Julyette Steur of Colorado 6-3, 6-1. (Photo by Mario Mendez)

“She just kind of walked around saying she couldn’t believe she lost to Kassidy Jump.”

ASU tennis freshman Kassidy Jump has not forgotten the reaction of her opponent, UA freshman Lauren Marker, after she lost to Jump two years ago in juniors play.

“She was pretty upset when I beat her. … I’ve been excited to play her ever since,” Jump said.

This battle depicts the true atmosphere of the upcoming ASU-UA tennis match, the final match of the regular season.

“It’s like two rivals,” junior Leighann Sahagun said. “It’s our school versus their school, then it’s Kass versus,” she paused, and her teammates laughed as Sahagun finished, “this girl.”

It is Sahagun’s third year of competing at a collegiate level, and her third time playing against UA. She has seen the good and the ugly: the ugly being a match in which UA shut out the Sun Devils 7-0, and the good being a 4-3 ASU victory.

This match is important.

“(It’s) huge, huge, huge,” Sahagun emphasized. “Absolutely huge.”

Freshman Gussie O’Sullivan, an Australian native, has not yet experienced the rivalry. She said she is particularly excited to watch Jump’s match. O’Sullivan will have to grow accustomed to the conditions on the sixth court of Robson Tennis Center at UA.

The first five courts are in a line, Sahagun said. The sixth is isolated.

“It’s really hard because you’re just by yourself,” she said.

O’Sullivan has performed admirably in the sixth spot in recent weeks, but junior Joanna Smith may be placed into the lineup in that spot.

Freshman Alex Osborne doesn’t typically play in singles, but she is an option to play on the sixth court. An Australian native, she moved to the U.S. in January. She hasn’t experienced a college rivalry quite like this.

“I’ve heard of (the rivalry), and I’m excited,” Osborne said.

Sophomore Stephanie Vlad has only played against UA once, a home match in 2013, but has played at Robson Tennis Center often.

“I grew up playing there often because we had a lot of junior tournaments there so I know the setup pretty well,” she said.

In addition to the different court setup, the elevation is a factor of the court.

“There’s a higher elevation, that’s why the balls fly a little bit more,” she said.

She said it is not drastic, but Sahagun felt a difference in her freshman year when the two schools played.

“The courts seem so small,” she said. “I would hit a shot not even hard, and it would just fly.”

She added that traffic from the road was a distraction on court five, which sophomore Ebony Panoho will have to get used to this year. That is not the only distraction; the match is the Wildcats’ Senior Night, and ASU coach Sheila McInerney said this will contribute to the audience level.

“We expect a pretty rowdy crowd down there, so we just have to keep our composure and just look to play one point at a time,” she said.

Despite the calmness in her voice, McInerney did not attempt to minimize the importance of this match.

“Anytime you’re playing your rival, it’s a big one for sure,” she said.

Reach the reporter at logan.newman@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @Logan_Newsman